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The coronavirus pandemic has caused a global reduction in economic activity and this is major cause for concern. However, the ramping down of human activity appears to have had a positive impact on the environment. Industrial and transport emissions have reduced,  and there is measurable data supporting the clearing of pollutants in the atmosphere, soil and water. This effect is also in contrast to carbon emissions, which shot up by 5 percent after the global financial crash over a decade ago, as a result of stimulus spending on fossil fuel use to kick-start the global economy.

The worldwide disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in numerous impacts on the environment and the climate. For example, the severe decline in travel has caused many regions to experience a drop in air pollution. In China, lockdowns and other measures resulted in a 25 per cent reduction in carbon emissions and 50 per cent reduction in nitrogen oxides emissions, which one Earth systems scientist estimated may have saved at least 77,000 lives over two months. However, the outbreak has also provided cover for illegal activities such as deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and poaching in Africa, hindered environmental diplomacy efforts, and created economic fallout that some predict will slow investment in green energy technologies.

Some of the major impacts have been as follows:

Impact on Air Quality: Due to the coronavirus outbreak’s impact on travel and industry, many regions and the planet as a whole have experienced a drop in air pollution. The Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air reported that methods to contain the spread of coronavirus, such as quarantines and travel bans, resulted in a 25 per cent reduction of carbon emission in China. In the first month of lockdowns, China produced approximately 200 million fewer metric tons of carbon dioxide than the same period in 2019, due to the reduction in air traffic, oil refining, and coal consumption. One Earth systems scientist estimated that this reduction may have saved at least 77,000 lives.

Impact on Water Quality: Demand for fish and fish prices have both decreased due to the pandemic, and fishing fleets around the world sit mostly idle. German scientist Rainer Froese has said the fish biomass will increase due to the sharp decline in fishing, and projected that in European waters, some fish such as herring could double their biomass.

Impact on Wildlife: As people stayed at home due to lockdown and travel restrictions, some animals have been spotted in cities. Sea turtles were spotted laying eggs on beaches they once avoided (such as the coast of the Bay of Bengal), due to the lowered levels of human interference and light pollution.

Impact on Deforestation/ Reforestation Activities: The disruption from the pandemic provided cover for illegal deforestation operations. This was observed in Brazil, where satellite imagery showed deforestation of the Amazon rainforest surging by over 50 per cent compared to baseline levels.

Is the Change Likely to Last?

While some experts predict that the change is likely to continue once order is restored and the pandemic is controlled, others are of the opinion that as people return to their old habits they will continue with destructive practices and environemental damage will continue to rise. This is up for debate and only time will reveal what is likely to happen.

What are the Policy Implications?

Environmental advocates and enthusiasts and even concerned citizens have expressed their appreciation for the positive impact that Covid-19 lockdown has had on the environment. For instance, air pollution levels in India have been the lowest in two decades and overall air quality improved considerably during the lockdown period.

While the picture is still unclear about whether these changes are likely to last, all stakeholders in the fight against climate change have unanimously expressed the view that they would hope to see some of these changes guide the new policy narratives.

COVID-19 is a reminder that human health is linked to the planet’s health. Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. They account for seventy-five percent of all emerging infectious diseases. A few lessons to learn for policy-making from this pandemic would be in following areas:

  • Trade & Environment: All relevant stakeholders must come together and address the crisis of the global economy in a coordinated fashion with stimulus packages and fiscal reforms that are greener and more sustainable. This is a significant opportunity for the government to  address environmental objectives and ensure that recovery leads to more sustainable outcomes.
  • Green Jobs: By focusing on sustainable consumption and production, governments must commit to supporting nations as they recover. They can provide green and decent jobs and just transitions for sectors impacted most by shifts to greener and more sustainable economies.
  • Enhancing Nationally Determined Contributions through Nature-Based Solutions and Resource Efficiency: This includes identifying and providing guidance on opportunities with high potential for climate mitigation and adaptation, and how to harness climate benefits from nature-based solutions and use resources more efficiently to help countries transition advantageously to greener, more inclusive economies.

While the picture about what will be the future of our environment is still unclear, one can earnestly hope that at least some of these changes are here to stay.

Image Source: Internet

About The Author

Srishti Tiku

Srishti is a graduate in Behavioral Economic Science from University of Warwick, UK, and is passionate about using her knowledge to decipher sustainability challenges through research and analysis. As Economics attempts to explain the processes that shape lives and livelihoods, Srishti finds it fascinating to learn about emerging patterns while wading her way through issues engulfing people, planet and profit. When she is not at desk, she loves to read and watch movies.

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Feature: COVID-19

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